The 4th Sunday of Pentecost
Heritage of Our Fathers #3—Original Sin June 5, 2016
278, 369, 388, 376
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
The apostle Paul wrote to young Pastor Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own evil desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4 NIV).
Tragically, that time of which Paul spoke came early to the Christian Church. Even in his letter to the Galatians, Paul lamented: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV).
Our age too has a “great number of teachers,” who are eager to scratch “itching ears,” that is, to say whatever people want to hear instead of what they need to hear. Consider how many churches today have simply stopped talking about sin. Or if sin is mentioned, it is often trivialized—like the popular TV preacher, who, during an Easter worship service, compared sin to “bad breath” and Jesus Christ to a “breath mint.”
An article I read recently said: “The modern church has largely done away with the biblical language of sin and salvation, replacing it with gooey postmodern verbiage that appeals to a generation raised on psychobabble and self-help seminars” (Jeremiah Johnson, Whatever Happened to Sin, GTY Online, 2015).
Sin, however, is never trivialized in Scripture. Whereas many modern churches avoid any mention of sin, the Bible mentions sin and its synonyms more than 2,500 times. In fact, in Old Testament Hebrew there are three nouns, seven verbs, and two adjectives for “sin.” In New Testament Greek, there are six nouns, five verbs, and seven adjectives.
Why is “sin” such a prominent word in the Bible? Because it is impossible to understand salvation without understanding sin. It is impossible to see the need for a personal Savior without seeing the reality of personal sin. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17 NIV).
In today’s text, the Apostle Paul clearly links sin and salvation; the first Adam and the second Adam—Jesus Christ; the tree in Eden and the tree on Calvary. So consider with me: TWO TREES, TWO HISTORIES, and TWO FUTURES.
First, the tree in Eden with its history and future. There were two important trees in the center of Eden—the center, because they were central to humanity’s relationship with God. One tree was the Tree of Life, and the other tree was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God commanded Adam: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
Today, we are as quick to blame the Almighty for everything wrong in our world and wrong in our lives as were Adam and Eve. After the fall into sin, Adam said, “God, it’s the woman You gave me.” Eve implied, “God, it’s the snake You made” (cf. Genesis 3:9ff). This is the same denial of responsibility—the same “I’m the victim here”—that has led so many churches to stop teaching about sin.
Yet, what is the reality? God did not bring sin and its consequences into the world. Adam and Eve did. In fact, God specifically told Adam and Eve which tree, the only tree, they were to avoid. Was this a mild suggestion, an ambiguous, politically correct recommendation? No. God spoke clearly: “You must not eat.” He also clearly explained the consequences of disobedience: “You will surely die.” The Hebrew is more literally, “dying you will die.” Man’s existence would become a dying existence, an existence characterized by death and ending in death.
Moreover, the two trees in the center of Eden did not represent a 50/50 chance of Adam and Eve making the right choice. At the time they received God’s warning, Adam and Eve were perfect, without sin, created in the image of God. They knew God. They knew themselves. They knew which tree was the right tree. There was nothing in them to make them desire the wrong tree. Yet, we know which tree they selected, and we can still see the consequences of their choice: death and dying.
Why is there death? Why is there disease? Why is the natural tendency of every physical entity in the universe—from packaged meat at Publix to the most distant galaxy—to deteriorate instead of evolve? Why do marriages fail? Why is 30% of internet activity related to pornographic websites?
Why is the world filled with chaos, craziness, violence, destruction, loss, pain, and confusion? Why are there brutal acts of terrorism and unspeakable crimes? Why does even an abundance of wealth leave the rich, famous, and powerful feeling empty, without meaning or purpose? Why do human beings despise God or deny His very existence when the evidence is everywhere that He does exist and His divine fingerprints are all over His creation? Why do they deny when “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1)?
That which science and human philosophy cannot answer, the Bible does. Everything wrong, shameful, violent, and lacking in this world originated with a single tree and a single event in the Garden of Eden: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6 NIV).
In that single act of disobedience in Eden, the sin of Adam and Eve became our sin, their death became our death, their history became our history, their sad future became our sad future. As Paul wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (v. 12).
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, no lightening flashed, no thunder boomed, no alarms sounded. But the impact of that first sin was immediate and devastating. Suddenly, they felt shame in their nakedness—exposed, wrong, vulnerable, indecent. They ran from God. They hid from God. They made excuses to God. They blamed God.
Everything changed. Their lives changed. Their relationships changed. Even their surroundings changed. Today, mankind is unquestionably impacted by his sinful environment. But long before this, the environment was impacted by sinful man. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said in Genesis 3:17.
Imagine how Adam and Eve felt when forced from the indescribably beautiful Garden of Eden into a world of thorns and thistles. Imagine how they felt when their firstborn son, Cain, killed their second son, Abel. And in Genesis 5, after the fall into sin, we find the world’s first obituary: “Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died…Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, and then he died…Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Methusaleh, Lamech”—and then they died. The obituary in Genesis 5 has never stopped growing. It continues today in daily newspapers.
One of the most popular programs on TV today is The Walking Dead—a series about animated corpses roaming the world while devouring the living. Zombies are not real. However, according to the Bible, “the walking dead” are real. This phrase accurately describes the condition of all human beings as they are by nature; that is, spiritually dead, separated from God, and therefore lost and condemned. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live” (NIV). The Greek verb for “lived” in this verse, PERIPATEO, actually means “to walk about.” So, dead and walking, or “the walking dead.” We are described as dead toward God, incapable even of the slightest spark of spiritual life, sight, hearing, thought, or deed.
If we could see people as they appear spiritually, apart from Jesus Christ, we would see only death, corruption, and decay. Listen again to how Jesus Himself described the natural condition of the human heart: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21-22 NIV).
At that tree in Eden, man not only lost his righteousness and perfection—the image of God—becoming utterly incapable of anything godly, he also became an avowed enemy of God. Paul tells us this in Romans 8:7, saying: “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (NIV).
This is sin in all of its ugliness, depravity, death, and condemnation. And therefore to compare sin to “bad breath;” to teach that sinful human beings can save themselves through good works, as the Roman Catholic Church taught at the time of the Reformation and still teaches today; to say that man can cooperate in any way with God in matters of salvation, including “making a decision for Christ;” and to see no reason to mention sin in sermons, prayers, liturgies, hymns, and confessions—all of these demonstrate a gross underestimation of sin and its consequences and the desire to satisfy “itching ears” instead of satisfying lost, hungry souls.
The historic Lutheran Confessions speak clearly on the subject of sin and its consequences. For example, we read in the Augsburg Confession: “Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam [Romans 5:12], all who are naturally born are born with sin [Psalm 51:5], that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit [John 3:5]” (Augsburg Confession, Article II, Original Sin). In other words, it is not merely sinful deeds that bring condemnation, but also sinful thoughts.
I’m reminded of words often read in our churches at the baptism of infants. “Dearly beloved: We learn from the Word of God that all men from the fall of Adam are conceived and born in sin and so are under the wrath of God and would be lost forever unless delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our personal sin is why we so desperately need Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.
Second, the tree on Calvary, with its history and future. It was no accident that Jesus Christ, God the Son, suffered and died on a cross—an instrument of torture and death made from wood, made from a tree. It was no accident that when nailed to the cross, Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns—thorns which symbolized the curse and futility and meaninglessness which came upon mankind and his world through the fall into sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said; “through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3:17-18 NIV).
In Eden, we were overcome at a tree. At Calvary, Jesus Christ overcame by a tree. In Eden, we were cursed. At Calvary, Jesus wore our curse and carried it and atoned for it. These wondrous parallels of salvation—the tree in Eden and the tree on Calvary—must drive us to our knees in humility and gratitude, and compel us to exclaim with Paul in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
That which our Savior, Jesus Christ, accomplished on the tree at Calvary has brought us a different history and a different future than the death and condemnation that came through the tree in Eden. The apostle Paul outlined these wondrous differences in Romans 5:15-19.
Through one man, Adam, sin came into the world. Through the God-Man, Jesus Christ—referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as the Second or Last Adam—salvation came into the world. The disobedience of Adam brought death to all. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ brought forgiveness, life, and redemption for all. The result of Adam’s sin was unrighteousness and condemnation. The result of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection was righteousness and justification.
The history of that tree on Calvary is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. This history is written about in such detail in the New Testament Epistles that Paul would tell the Corinthians: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV).
On that tree, the cross, Jesus Christ atoned for every sin that has ever been committed or will ever be committed—every sinful thought, every sinful word, every sinful deed. Those sins which today may be tormenting us so that in some dark recess of our hearts we are convinced, “God can’t possibly forgive me for that.” Should He forgive me? No. Did He forgive me? Yes. Absolutely. Unequivocally. Irrevocably. How? Isaiah 53:4-6, “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (NIV).
Or Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or, as stated so simply and beautifully in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
The Holy spirit makes this blessed history our history. When by grace we believe in Jesus as our Savior, His redemptive history becomes our history, and His future, our future. It is at the cross of Jesus Christ that sin appears at its blackest, and the grace of God shines in all of its fullness and brightness. Indeed, through the power of His Holy Spirit, God has planted the Old Rugged Cross in our hearts and it has become the Tree of Life.
Two trees. Two histories. Two futures.
Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12), all who are naturally born are born with sin (Psalm 51:5), that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, thus obscuring the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits. Pelagians argue that a person can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.
Augsburg Confession, Article II
Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House.
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